The Product Manager vs. the Product Marketing Manager

product manager vs product marketing manager

It is no secret that I have a special fondness for product managers and product marketing managers. I have written before about the enormous value that these folks bring to a company. I worked in both roles early in my career, so I know firsthand how instrumental the disciplines are to driving the growth of the business. Unfortunately, that hard work is often unappreciated or misunderstood —  not just because both start with the word “product.”

Product managers and product marketing managers work closely together — but the actual work you do is quite different.

Product managers are responsible for some of the most important work a business does — guiding the future of the product. They lead the product team and oversee the entire lifecycle of a product, setting the strategic vision and defining the “why,” “what,” and “when” of what gets built. This work comes before the engineering team tackles the “how” of building the product.

Product marketing managers have a different job — they communicate the “why,” “what,” and “when” of what is built to potential buyers and internal teams. They use their understanding of the product and knowledge of the market, customers, and competitors to clearly explain the unique value the product brings.

Now, in a healthy organization, product management and product marketing collaborate closely. But I have seen how things can go wrong when the two teams are not in sync — inconsistent messaging, botched go-live dates, and confusion about what the product actually does and the real benefit to customers.

The key to success is for product and product marketing managers to work together. The first step is understanding how the two roles differ:

Strategy 
The product manager sets the product vision and defines the goals and initiatives that will help achieve that vision. This requires studying the market and creating personas to gain a deep understanding of user needs. Clear strategy is essential because it helps the product team make sound decisions — each new feature should tie back to actual business objectives.

The product marketing manager uses the product strategy (along with the established overall marketing strategy) to create the go-to-market strategy. This lays out the work that needs to be done in order to deliver something new — launch a product, introduce a feature, or expand into a new market. Because the goal is to reach the right audience, the product marketing manager focuses on creating positioning and messaging that resonates with target buyers.

Roadmaps 
The product manager creates the product roadmap — a visual representation of the strategic direction and plan for executing the work. The roadmap establishes a timeline for what the product team will deliver. The product manager also collects ideas for features and requirements, scoring based on what will bring the most value to the business and to users, and adding those to the roadmap. 

The product marketing manager puts together the go-to-market roadmap. The purpose is to capture and coordinate the timing of all the cross-functional activities required to release a new customer experience. It is informed by the product roadmap, with milestones that keep the team in sync and on time with deliverables.

Customers 
The product manager focuses on the user — understanding what people want to achieve by using the product. This requires seeking feedback from customers about their challenges and the features they want added in the future. The goal is to distill the essence of what users need, then work with the development team to find technical solutions.

The product marketing manager is more focused on the buying characteristics of the user — understanding what people need to know about the product (and what it does) in order to make a purchase. This entails making buyer personas, mapping out each step of the customer journey, and giving demos or presentations to potential customers. The aim is to translate technical functionality into marketing messages that resonate with the target audience.

Cross-functional teams 
As the product leader, the product manager serves as an advocate for the user and the product. This takes a mix of strategic and tactical work across teams, as well as sharing the future of the product with their colleagues in engineering, marketing, sales, and support. They act as a conduit between stakeholders and the teams that will implement the work.

As the go-to-market leader, the product marketing manager ensures that internal, customer-facing teams know how to best represent the technical benefits of the product. This can entail collaborating with marketing to hone key messaging, providing training to sales and support teams, and making sure the website will get updated before the next go-to-market. The product marketing manager also serves as a product expert for marketing teammates, tracking metrics and reporting on any shifts in the market.

Different focus and responsibilities — but product managers and product marketing managers are trying to create the most value for customers and the business.

They both want to make customers happy and grow the business. So how can they work together to achieve this? Frequent communication and regular meetings to discuss strategy, plans, and timing are critical. This kind of close collaboration makes it easier to get in sync on what truly matters — the product and how to best convey its value to customers.

How have you seen product managers and product marketing managers work best together?

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About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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